AA Kills 20 Soldiers in N. Rakhine’s Ancient Capital Mrauk-U

By Moe Myint 10 April 2019

YANGON—About 20 government soldiers were killed when the Arakan Army staged attacks on two Myanmar Army artillery bases on the outskirts of Mrauk-U in northern Rakhine State on Tuesday night, the armed ethnic group’s deputy chief claimed.

Brigadier-General Nyo Tun Aung said the AA attacked the No. 31 Police Regiment because troops from Light Infantry Division (LID) No. 22 were firing 105-mm howitzer shells almost daily from the base and another Army base in Lay Hnyin Taung about 8 km from downtown Mrauk-U.

Additional Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) troops were dispatched from other locations to reinforce the police regiment and Lay Hnyin Taung bases but were ambushed by AA rebels on the way. The AA deputy chief said the group burned seven Army speedboats in the Lay Hnyin Taung clash and confiscated about seven assault rifles and one MG-42 machine gun, according to an initial count.

“That police regiment is a major source of shelling [into the mountains] in Mrauk-U Township,” Brig-Gen. Nyo Tun Aung said.

He said the Myanmar military used three fighter jets and two bombers as well as attack helicopters in the battle against the AA from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning. AA spokesman U Khine Thukha told The Irrawaddy the AA captured some prisoners of war from two artillery units but declined to provide details.

Sources close to the AA told The Irrawaddy the AA seized all military materiel and forced the vast majority of LID No. 55 troops based at No. 31 Police Regiment to flee. At around dawn, however, all AA troops retreated from the police compound as they came under attack from Tatmadaw fighter jets firing rockets.

No. 31 Police Regiment, situated near Koe Thaung Pagoda in the ancient city of Mrauk-U / Moe Myint / The Irrawaddy

Some local residents also claimed that Army troops had been disguising themselves as police and firing artillery from the police regiment into the mountains since last month. When this Irrawaddy reporter visited Mrauk-U recently, dozens of troops from LID No. 55 were observed conducting regular patrols near Koe Thaung pagoda, a popular tourist site, and police and Army personnel were seen conducting joint patrols even in downtown Mrauk-U.

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun confirmed to The Irrawaddy Burmese edition that the police regiment and temporary base were attacked by the AA and that some Tatmadaw troops had been killed, but he declined to reveal specific casualty figures.

Army Captain Htet Thura Soe of Defense Services Academy (DSA) intake 52 was among those killed in Tuesday’s attack, according to Facebook posts by his wife and some military supporters. Some military officers from another unit praised Capt. Htet Thura Soe as a hero sacrificed in battle.

Last week, a military captain and his entire squadron were killed during a clash with AA rebels in a remote area of northern Rakhine’s Buthidaung.

Mrauk-U residents began posting online updates about the clash starting at about 10 p.m. on Tuesday. They said that at about 5 a.m., Army fighter jets flew over the city and fired into the mountains to the east.

Myanmar Air Force JF-17 fighter jets / Myo Htwe / Facebook

A 1-year-old child and her mother from Chaung Thit village a few kilometers from Mrauk-U Police Regiment were transferred from Mrauk-U Hospital to Sittwe General Hospital after sustaining bullet wounds to the chest. Total civilian casualties in the latest clash remained unclear as of Wednesday evening.

Security in northern Rakhine was tightened on Tuesday after the AA’s deputy chief promised Arakanese living outside the region a “surprise gift” to commemorate the AA’s 1oth anniversary on Wednesday.

In a message posted to Facebook on Wednesday morning, AA deputy chief Brig-Gen. Nyo Tun Aung said the group had sabotaged at least three locations where Army artillery units are based in Mrauk-U. He wrote that fighting between the Army and the AA would continue throughout the Water Festival period, a long annual holiday for Buddhists in Myanmar celebrated by splashing water, spraying water on pavilions, visiting pagodas and paying respects to the elderly.

Amid the intensifying conflict in northern Rakhine, the AA did not publicly commemorate the 10th anniversary of its founding at its headquarters in Laiza, in the part of Kachin State controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

In his message, the AA deputy chief also said that the group would change its official name from Rakhine Tatmadaw to Rakhine Tataw in Burmese, but the name Arakan Army would continue to be used in English.

“Starting from today, there will be only simultaneous attacks in Rakhine. We will not recognize any special days when it comes to fighting,” he wrote.

>>Video footage taken by Chit Tant and posted to Facebook shows a Myanmar Air Force fighter jet firing rockets at a suspected AA position in the mountains east of Mrauk-U in northern Rakhine State. / Chit Tant / Facebook

He urged Arakanese living around the world to find their own way to celebrate the 1oth Arakan Army Day and requested that Arakanese express their support on social media by writing the number 10 or wearing clothing bearing the number 10.

The months-long armed conflict in northern Rakhine has resulted in more than 26,000 internally displaced persons, most of them coming from five townships. The majority of IDPs are relying on donations from local relief groups and have been sheltering in neighboring villages and monasteries for months.